It’s ten days from Christmas and our tree is still standing empty, begging for decorations and presents. It is awaiting a happy family to stand around while strategically placing their personal ornaments and alight it with joy. Incidentally, our house is in total disarray from the flooding of our kitchen and only half of the house has festive holdiay decorations. The tree stands empty.
We proudly brought our family tree home last week and just haven’t found the time to decorate it. The kids have activities, dad has been ill, and honestly, mom just hasn’t been in the spirit.
Grief and the Holidays
Here’s what no one tells you about grief. Or maybe they do and I just wasn’t listening. Grief hits hardest in the least expected times. As a social worker, I understand the stages of grief and the roller coaster of emotions that we all experience. Additionally, I recognize the ability to personalize the most innocent statement from a family member while wondering what the hell they are thinking. For a licensed social worker, I really suck at feeling emotions.
I am just not as festive as I usually am. As a mom, this sucks, because I want to create amazing Christmas memories for my boys. I don’t want them to suffer because their mom is dealing with my own issues. So where do we find the balance? How do I let go of the avoidance?
Not Dealing is Avoidance
This season is the first one without my mom. While we had a tempestuous relationship and often failed to understand one another, she trusted me with her last will and testament. For me, that is an honor that I don’t take lightly. Granted, it is a total pain in the ass and trying to make things happen from another state is compounding the stress. However, she trusted me to carry out her final wishes and I will make that happen. My internal struggle comes from pushing through those demands and trying to put on a smile for my boys and celebrate our blessings in the hear and now.
Until my late 40’s, I had never had to be the responsible child. After all, I had a pretty amazing older brother who took care of the tough stuff and only filled me in when he thought I needed to know something. When he passed away, those expectations passed onto me. I am pretty sure my extended family thinks my mom was crazy for leaving these decisions to me…after all, I am the wild child… the one who does my own thing and who really likes to live in a bubble. In other words, I like avoidance.
Truth be told, I also wondered if I could step up. But I did, and I will. Because she trusted me to do so. Adulting is tough and watching your parent pass away, regardless of the relationship between you definately changes you. It changes how you feel about the world and it provides a sense of mortality that only comes from that experience.
Stay in the moment
My friend, I know you are grieving. Do what you need to do for you. Will others disagree and judge? Absolutely, but they are not walking your walk. They only know their own pain and grief. And we all grieve differently. We tend to focus on our own pain and forget that others are also struggling. Be kind and try to be gentle with others and with yourself.
Stay in the moment. Today, I am going to go shower, put on some makeup and gather my family around our naked Christmas Tree. Together we will create a masterpiece of memories and together we will smile as we remember the story behind each ornament. I will allow myself to cry when I need to (I really do suck at this) and I will allow myself to be happy and guilt free when those moments arise.
The passing of our loved ones creates waves of emotions that we may not be prepared for, however it also allows us to remember why we loved them in the first place. Never underestimate the connection between love and grief.
And for you? Merry Christmas. Celebrate how you need to for you and yours.
Actually, you don’t. I understand are two words that I fucking hate to hear someone say to me. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe those words are said with love and compassion. But let’s get something straight…You Don’t Understand. And to be honest, I don’t understand what you are going through either.
I understand is something we say when we don’t know what else to say. It is something to fill in the uncomfortable silence when we get too close to someone else’s tragic circumstances. Too often, we say “I understand” when we have similar experiences and want to let other’s know they aren’t alone.
Your experiences shape your understanding. Considering this, there are no two people in the world who will experience the same event in the exact same way. This is one reason that law enforcement doesn’t give too much credibility to witness statements. If ten people are interviewed about an incident, all ten statements will differ in some aspect. People focus on events based on who they are. Smells, sights, sounds, and even tastes may change based upon who is experiencing them.
And if an experience induces a feeling of trauma, all bets are off. Emotions will dull your senses as your fight or flight kicks in and you will be in survival mode. Many times when a loved one passes away, those left behind are blinded by their own pain. They forget there are others hurting and often personalize the behavior of their family and friends. Everything becomes about them and words and actions are often miscommunicated. Thus the reason that many families drift away after the loss of a beloved matriarch or patriarch…it appears that everyone feels slighted by others. Unfortunately, this is not the intent, it is the by-product of grief.
How to help a friend who is grieving
When I lost my brother, it was devastating. He was my rock and the one who was supposed to outlive us all. I had no idea how many people I knew had lost a sibling and when they began reaching out, I realized I wasn’t alone. Were our experiences the same? No. However, we all became part of a club that none of us wanted to belong to and we realized we were not alone. We could bond over the loss and share our experiences, both positive and negative.
For me, some of the kindest things others have done is to just be there. I have one friend who knows that I hide away when I am struggling and she leaves messages for me, knowing I will call back when I am ready. I have other friends who often ask how I am doing and they call me out on my bullshit when I tell them I am ok.
I often joke that as a social worker, I suck at my own emotions. Truthfully, I am more comfortable with helping others, which are totally forms of denial and avoidance. So just let me know you are here. Let me ramble. Listen as I tell stories. Empathize with my situation, just please don’t tell me that you understand.
What helped me
I love the book “It’s Not Supposed to be This Way” by Lisa TerKeurst. It resonated with me. For so long, I have been stuck within my grief. Within a short time frame, many influential people in my life passed away and each one left a feeling of emptiness. However, as I explain to my children, this is the circle of life and as hard as it is to understand, it means we felt deep love. That is a blessing for I cannot imagine living life without love.
Prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I have seen God work through people and I know He is with us. Furthermore, I believe we will once again be reunited with our loved ones.
Being honest about how I am feeling. This is a kicker for me because as I mentioned, I suck at this. There have been times in the past few years that I have been treading water…simply treading. And occasionally I find myself back in that same place. I expend energy but I don’t move forward.
I realize that we may have never actually met in person, but I know you.
I know you because we share the same defeated spirit. Right now you are wondering if I am fuckin crazy and that’s ok, sometimes I wonder that myself. What I am trying to say is that at some point in our lives we have done too much. We have committed to too many things. At some point in our lives (or maybe multiple times) we have put our needs behind every other person we know. And we are fricken exhausted.
I’m not talking about the can’t move my body because I am so tired exhausted. I mean we are brain weary, I can’t remember what I was going to say let alone why I walked into this room exhausted. Our minds are toast and our soul is screaming for a break. But we don’t give ourselves one because that would lead to feelings of guilt, which would lead to more commitments, which leads to being overwhelmed and the fricken cycle continues and the thread unravels.
The thread unravels
Have you ever tried to thread a needle? Those little needle holes are ridiculous and as you get older it becomes more difficult (I digress). Here’s the thing; if you don’t have the end of the thread bonded together, it begins to unravel. As that thread unravels, each little tiny piece of material becomes it’s own monster and demands attention and before you know it, you have multiple strands everywhere and none are working together.
The only way to fix it is to cut the thread and start again.
Additionally, I understand the impromptu anger that comes when you see the dishes on the end table or the socks laying unmatched near the front door. There are times when I think I am the only person who is able to see these items, although I am most assuredly not the one who left them there.
Resentment begins when we feel overwhelmed by the tasks laid before us. Unfortunately, resentment can sneak up on us, even when we are doing things we committed to doing. It isn’t something that we wear proudly, nor is it something we often talk about. I will say it. There are days that I struggle with wishing others would do more so I could do less. Furthermore, I want to stomp my feet and scream at the top of my lungs to “pick up the fuckin socks.” But I don’t and the thread unravels.
For years I didn’t talk about these feelings, as I felt guilty doing so. After experiencing miscarriages and difficult pregnancies, I know what a gift having a baby is. For me, complaining felt like an affront to being a mother. Now I see it differently and realize resentment and gratitude can live together in the same world. When I begin to feel resentful, it is time for me to stop, cut the chords and start again.
It is time to take care of me and ask the family to help out. It’s my job to teach my boys to become independent, not do it all for them. Although sometimes it is so much easier to just do it myself, I realize that isn’t helping any of us. And when everyone begins to pitch in, I feel gratitude overpowering those feelings of resentment.
I see you
So, girl, I see how hard you are working. And recently, I feel as though I have experienced every emotion these past few weeks. Wondering if I am helping my kids make the right decisions… questioning if I am supporting my husband enough… hurting for those around me who are hurting. I have been grateful beyond measure, followed by waves of grief and questioning. Parenting is hard…loving others is hard…watching those you love hurting is hard.
This is for you and hear me as I say this…“You are right where you need to be and you are doing an amazing job. Cut yourself some slack and just be present”. Your expectations of yourself are so much higher than the expectations of those who love you. Say that again and believe it in your soul. Cindi
Contrary to what people think about GRIEF, it’s the little things. It’s not one giant reminder that propels us into a cascade of tears.
It’s the ornament forgotten in the box. The musical globe unpacked from the Christmas tub. The long forgotten shirt hidden in the back of a closet. It’s the inability to text with a question or sarcastic comment. It’s the memory of a long ago childhood that has been carefully tucked away.
Grief, 5 Stages
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified 5 stages of grief that must be gone through in order to move forward. I don’t think we ever recover, we just learn to live a new normal with a void in our lives. I have abbreviated the steps for this post, however for more information, follow this link.
*Denial – we have all been victims to denial. This is especially true when we have lost someone we love. Words such as “no, no, no, or in my case, “Mike Who” inevitably come out of our mouths as we try to convince ourselves that couldn’t have happened. We tell ourselves and others anything to create the illusion that what is happening isn’t real.
*Anger – We become angry…sometimes at the person, sometimes at the world. Furthermore, we question why that person would have been in that specific situation, why they didn’t help themselves, or why we didn’t help them. Anger is debilitating and often comes alongside guilt.
*Bargaining – We play mind games with ourselves and try to make deals with God. We think “if I can do this and that, than he will be OK” and so forth.
*Depression – heart wrenching, deep and dark feelings of emptiness or pain. Feeling as though the world will never be the same…and it won’t, however being in the present hurts, so it is easier to live in memories.
*Acceptance – you understand the loss is real and recognize the your life has changed. While you realize you will move forward, it is one small step at a time before you begin to find your new normal.
A New Normal
Many of us don’t like change. We become comfortable in our predictable lives , therefore anything that occurs to underscore that normalcy is difficult. When we lose someone we love, it seems like everything in our lives feels in chaos. The predictability of a text, a phone call or cry in the night is gone. The ability to walk into the kitchen and see our loved one has vanished. Their smell, touch and the sound of their voice is just gone.
Consequently, a new normal is what life looks like after that loss. While looking at us from from the outside it may not appear to be terribly different, however on the inside, many of us are forcing ourselves to get out of bed and face the day. Hence, others don’t see the struggle to go to the store and not shop for something special for our lost loved one, or see the sad smile as a long forgotten song begins to play.
A new normal means something different for everyone. With the holidays, keep in mind that not everyone will be celebrating this year. Respect your friend who has no desire to put out a Christmas Tree. Let them do things their way. Let them grieve. Share their memories and let them keep their loved ones alive.
Circle of Life
If only the Circle of Life was as easy as watching a Disney Move; consequently, we cry, we laugh, we go on with our day. The circle of life continues everyday; however, it seems like some days are just more difficult than others. Shoot, maybe some moments are more difficult than others. Don’t personalize your friend, for sometimes the anger is overwhelming and you are the unwilling outlet. Consequently, forgive them and just let them be as they learn how to live their new normal.
And most of all, to everyone who is learning to find their new normal, God bless. Do what you need to do for you. Hold the little things close, and the memories of your loved once closer. Furthermore, I give you permission to grieve your own way.
It comes in waves and affects every person differently.
11 years ago today, my husband and I learned that our daughter had died at 24 weeks and three days. She was still in the womb and I had to be induced for her to enter this world and wait over 24 hours for her to be born. After her birth, I remember the nurse bringing this tine, one pound little girl to me, wrapped tightly in a blanket. .
Chaney Renee was stillborn. I remember looking at her and her little nose turned up, just like mine. I cried as I held her close to my heart and I remember my father in law telling me that when you lose a baby on Earth, you have a baby to rock in Heaven. All I knew was that I hurt desperately and I was going home without my little girl. I didn’t realize until that experience that the hospital put a rose outside my door to signify that we had lost our child. This was their cue to not ask about our baby.
4 1/2 hours after giving birth,my husband and I walked out of the hospital. I had never felt so empty in my life and I remember thinking I would never be happy again. I remember wondering how I could be in the throws of grief while the world went on with their lives. Even walking through Target with my husband was so emotionally difficult, as all I could see were the baby girl clothes that we would never buy. Truthfully, I thought the crying would never stop.
I remember when my husband went back to work, I felt alone and terrified. My anxiety was incredibly high and my grief was overwhelming. I was mourning the loss of our baby, but as my husband explained, it was so much more. We were mourning the death of the dreams we had for her. Our little girl would never grow up and experience everything we, as parents, dreamed for her.
I vividly remember a few weeks later, working with my dad in our basement and painting the walls. My father hated to paint, but he wanted to keep me company, so together we painted. Out of the blue, I began singing, which is something I never thought I would do again. It was at that point, I knew I would be OK…I would never be the same, but I would be OK. God was with us through our journey and I knew our little girl was safely in His kingdom.
This experience helped me in my career as a social worker. I became more empathetic and I understood how a parent would do anything in their power to protect their children. You see, we knew from 12 weeks that Chaney had a genetic disorder. Testing showed she had Turners Syndrome in addition to some other anomalies. We knew she had a small chance for survival. We researched her condition and were given the option to terminate the pregnancy. We chose to let God guide us. Guaranteed that she would not suffer, we let her dictate her path and that allowed me to be as close to her as possible for her short life.
Weekly ultrasounds provided us with pictures of this sweet girl. She continued to be active until the week she was still. At some point within the week, she had passed away and as a mother I was unable to tell. I remember the doctor letting us know that she was gone and we were instantly put on the ward and labor was induced. I called my good friend and chaplain at the hospital I worked with to come and bless her, which he did. She was in God’s arms now and I needed to let her go.
Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of her birth. July 22nd will always be a difficult day for me and I rarely talk about this event in our lives, although it was one of the most traumatic times we have experienced.
This little girl taught me grace and empathy. She provided me with the ability to see my boys as gifts and I know she is watching over us as we grow older. When God calls me home, I will have a baby to rock and she will be whole and healthy, waiting with open arms for another hug from her mama.
Recently she was joined by my brother. He was 53 years old and passed away unexpectedly. My husband took the call and I will never forget the look on his face when he told me the news. I was in denial as I asked “Mike who”? My brother was my hero and had been since I was a child. We may not have had much communication, but we didn’t need to. We were five and 1/2 years apart and we were like oil and water. He was a trail blazer and made things happen. I often took and hard paths and walked the line between right and wrong. He never once shunned me and he was always there to support me, even if he didn’t agree with my decisions.
This grief is different. I feel as though I have been kicked in the gut as I look back over the years. My brother was the one who cared for me while my parents worked. He was the one who taught me to ride a motorcycle. He was the one that taught me that I could do anything if I worked hard enough.
He attended my basketball and softball games. He attended my graduations from high school and college. He was there for me to vent. We had plans to meet the day after he died, and through this experience, I have learned that sometimes tomorrow never comes.
This grief is different from the loss of our baby. I have memories with my brother and I watched him grow up and become an amazing husband and father. This loss carries the memories of a lifetime with him and a sadness for what we won’t experience together. He was one of my “rocks” and I hope that I can take what he taught me and help his wife and children through their lives.
To him, I was always the little sister who never grew up, or at least I always felt like that. I watched his children when they were little and I came to love his wife as a sister. She also taught me so much about family and what it means to accept one another. Her parents extended their home and love to me and treated me as family.
This loss was so unexpected. I know that God has a plan that we are not able to understand, and while I struggle with it, I know to trust in Him. While I hurt and sometimes experience waves of uncontrollable grief, I know that we will move forward and learn to live our “new normal” as my friend eloquently explained it.
So, my friends, remember that sometimes tomorrow never comes. Live your life and step out of your comfort zones. Allow yourself to laugh and be silly, as you go through your life. Let yourself impact others and let God work His Grace through you.